New Drug Test for Cocaine Uses Fingerprint Technology

Drug testing for cocaine use in the future may replace hair, blood and urine sampling with fingerprint analysis. In the past similar tests have been used by law enforcement, but officials could only determine if a suspect handled cocaine, not if they ingested it. European scientists, however, have now developed a way to instantly tell if someone has consumed the drug. This test will be useful for officials who investigate pushers of the drug and rehab patients who are unable to kick this dangerous addiction.

Why Old Testing Methods Don’t Work
Testing a suspect’s urine is not always practical, as it does not always produce definitive results. Researchers of the drug and rehab officials have suggested that cocaine affects each individual differently without generating clear conclusions while taxpayers end up paying for this expense. May times it requires expert analysts at high costs to make accurate determinations. In terms of urine testing, biological hazards can occur when researchers handle bodily fluids.

As drug testing started to become widespread, particularly among employers in the 1990s, drug users found ways to beat these tests. They would first give themselves preliminary tests after using a detoxification product. While there were four main tests that became common (urine, hair, saliva, blood), urine tests were the most popular due to being the cheapest. Yet, urine tests were the easiest to beat. Users simply would abstain for 48 hours.

Factors that affected cocaine detection included frequency of use, metabolic rate, body mass, physical activity, age and health. Hair tests were the hardest to beat because traces of the drug could be identified in the hair over a 90 day time frame. Drug and rehab experts sometimes were misled with false positive cocaine tests if the subject had ingested certain substances such as coca leaves, coca oil, coca tea or tonic water.

Invasive Issues
Many people, even those who never use illegal narcotics, feel that traditional drug testing methods are invasive and violate a person’s right to privacy. Asking for hair, urine and saliva samples can be embarrassing for certain people, especially those wrongly accused of drug abuse. The concept of fingerprint testing is not as invasive as only a minimal area of the fingers are used for testing.

New Technology
A team of scientists from five institutions recently discovered more reliable methods to test for cocaine use. Those institutions include:

  • University of Surrey
  • Netherlands Forensic Institute
  • National Physical Laboratory in the UK
  • King’s College London
  • Sheffield Hallam University

According to study leader Dr. Melanie Bailey from the University of Surrey, scientists are only bound by the size of this technology. She expects researchers to miniaturize the technology to make it portable. She believes it will help protect the public while providing a safer test for subjects, eliminating the need for blood tests.

Mass Spectrometry
Law enforcement officers can now test individuals for cocaine use in a non-evasive way through a process called mass spectrometry. This new drug testing method involves an analysis of chemical compounds in the suspect’s fingertips. Officials look for two unique compounds found in fingertips when someone has consumed cocaine: benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine. The former is a compound that results from the body metabolizing cocaine while the latter is a cocoa plant byproduct.

Electrospray Ionization
The technique of determining whether benzoylecgonine and methylecgonine are present in a suspect’s fingertips is called electrospray ionization. It involves spraying a special solvent on a slide consisting of the person’s fingerprints. This technique has been used in the past for forensic investigations, but only recently has it become used by law enforcement for drug testing.

Why Fingerprint Method is Useful

  • safer than handling bodily fluids
  • cheaper than traditional drug testing
  • electrospray eliminates storage and disposal costs
  • the test cannot be faked
  • results immediately reveal if a suspect has used cocaine
  • at the same it verifies an individual’s identity

Future Availability
Fingerprint drug testing is not yet available for organizations to use to test individuals for drug abuse. Researchers believe, however, this new drug testing technology may be unleashed to the public within the next ten years. Some drug and rehab experts are already preparing for this new technology by researching how to develop cost effective portable kits.